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Monday, Oct 25, 2021

Medical marijuana debate hits close to home for one Mercer student

Katie (left) kisses her sister sister, Maggie on the cheek, Maggie suffers from an intractable seizure disorder.
Katie (left) kisses her sister sister, Maggie on the cheek, Maggie suffers from an intractable seizure disorder.

For as long as Mercer University junior Katie Callaway can remember, her younger sister, Maggie Callaway, has suffered from an unrelenting seizure disorder.

When Maggie was born, she received her immunization shots, and then she had her first seizure at three months old.

“Right after she got her shots, she started having seizures,” Katie said.

The seizures have mentally regressed Maggie to the point at which she developmentally functions on a three-year-old age level. She is 17.

The seizures unexpectedly arrive and then usher Maggie into a state wherein she cannot eat, speak or sleep because her body trembles. The doctors told the family that Maggie’s seizures could get better after puberty, but her condition has only worsened.

But there’s hope for Maggie and her family.

A new program is available to provide financial assistance to those who want to seek treatment with medical cannabis oil, which is not currently legal in Georgia but has been shown to benefit children with severe seizures or neurological disorders.

State Rep. Allen Peake launched “Journey of Hope” after a failed attempt to pass legislation in Georgia that would have made medical cannabis oil legal in certain situations.

A close friend of the Callaways told them about “Journey of Hope” and put Maggie on the list.

The cannabis oil’s low levels of THC, a substance found in marijuana, combined with high levels of Cannabidiol (CBD), can have a substantial impact on minimizing seizures, said Maggie’s mom, Beth Callaway.

CBD is a compound found in cannabis that is used for medical purposes. The level of THC in cannabis oil is low, so users are not likely to get a high from it.

After many years of failed medications, unproductive hospital stays and unhelpful diets, the novel medication could possibly be the long-awaited, successful treatment that Maggie so desperately needs.

‘Zombie-like condition’

In the past, Maggie’s seizures only occurred once or twice a month, but now Maggie will have two to three seizures every other night leaving her in a “zombie-like condition,” Beth said.

Beth and her husband, Kevin Callaway, stay up long nights in order to take care of their child and are both emotionally and physically spent.

“It’s just something that has taken a toll on their physical health,” Katie said.

Initially, the Callaway family had its doubts about the medical cannabis oil treatment, especially Beth.

“My mom was just coping with what my sister had, and we weren’t really searching for solutions,” Katie said.

Katie said that her parents have extensively researched the drug and its positive impact on children suffering with seizure disorders and other neurological conditions. This research made Beth less skeptical.

The family was ecstatic to learn that Maggie would get assistance from “Journey of Hope.”

“(My mom) probably cried for two hours because it’s hope for my family and the hope that (Maggie) will stop having seizures,” Katie said.

New Hope

On Oct. 8, Maggie, Beth and Kevin will drive to Colorado, where marijuana is legal, as medical refugees. Maggie will seek treatment for her seizures from a team of doctors and will be referred to a caregiver who will grow a specific strand of medical cannabis and extract the oil for her.

Katie will continue taking classes at Mercer, and her father will also stay in Georgia and continue working at his job as an engineer.

“I personally think that it’s going to be positive, but that’s not something we’ll know till we’re there,” Katie said. “We are fortunate to have this opportunity to go to Colorado, but so many families in Georgia don't, and I, myself, didn’t realize how important and crucial this is to families.”

The program covers housing, rent and transportation but not the treatment. A close friend of the Callaways created a “GoFundMe” for Maggie to try to raise money to cover treatment costs.

Within 24 hours, the page raised $10,000 and was shared on social media over 600 times.

“We were so overwhelmed and overjoyed,” Katie said. “We weren’t expecting that kind of result.”

Spreading Awareness

Before they leave for Colorado, the Callaways are trying to spread as much awareness about medical cannabis oil as possible and to help people see past the political stigma.

Peake has been hosting a series of hearings across Georgia to increase dialogue about medical marijuana and to address misconceptions about the drug.

Mercer recently hosted one of Peake’s hearings, and the Callaway family attended as advocates for the legislation to allow medical cannabis oil in the state.

In the middle of the conference, Beth noticed Maggie’s breathing quicken and goose bumps begin to form on her legs.

Beth immediately recognized that Maggie was about to have a seizure.

The Callaways swiftly exited the conference and were followed by journalists who snapped pictures during Maggie’s seizure.

“I wanted to tell them to go away,” Katie said, “but I didn’t know who would see those pictures and what it could do for the cause.”

The decision to open their private lives to the public wasn’t easy, but the family decided that it was necessary to raise awareness about their daughter’s condition and for other families struggling with similar medical issues.

Maggie’s story has gained attention from all over the state. Katie said that her parents are not used to getting interviewed by the media, which is eager to learn their story.

But for the Callaway family, this is more than a story; the issue is a sobering reality.

“This is something that’s been a part of us for 17 years; it’s emotional,” Katie said. “We’ve never known a Maggie who hasn’t had seizures, so the chance of her beginning a healing process… we’ve never been given that opportunity for that.”

The next few months will be an exciting yet nerve-wracking time for the family.

If the medication works, “there is no way we are going to stay in Georgia,” Katie said, “so I guess they are going to wait and see.”



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